"Corrective Rape" in South Africa

By: Ibitola Adesuyi

South Africa is familiar to most because of its anti-apartheid movement, the fight for equality between South Africa’s different races. But unbeknownst to many, South Africa is the fifth country in the world to legalize gay marriage. [a] Unfortunately, that did not improve the lot of homosexuals in South Africa. South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual assault.

Many homosexuals in South Africa are the targets of a sexual practice called corrective rape. “Corrective rape” is ostensibly designed to use rape as a means to forcibly change the sexual orientation of perceived lesbians and gay men. Although homosexuals, as a group, are the objects of these assaults, lesbians, unfortunately, are the most common targets. These women are targeted by random men on the street or, even worse, handed off by their family members to men to “cure” them of their sexual orientation. Afterwards, their bodies are disrespected; many are found skinned, stabbed, with toilet brushes inside them, with their eyes gouged out of their sockets, and, as is sometimes discovered later, with H.I.V. [a] All over Africa, homosexuality is generally not accepted. However, in South Africa, gay marriage is legal. In fact, South Africa banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1996, becoming the first country in the world to do so in its constitution. [b] So given the history of South Africa, how is a practice like corrective rape common within a country’s whose fight for equality has been so poignant? 

The continent of Africa contains many different cultures and polarizing religious views. Most religious and cultural beliefs in Africa, however, do not permit homosexuality. In fact, over 38 countries in Africa do not tolerate homosexual relations, and many have prison sentencing for those caught expressing homosexual affection in public.  Furthermore, in countries under Sharia law, including some parts of Somalia, homosexuality is punishable by death. [b]

It is a general belief that homosexuality is a product of western influences and therefore, is not in accordance with African culture where heteronormative standards reign supreme. This has set the standards for homosexuality in Africa and most people view homosexuality as one of the biggest sins one can perpetrate. As a result, many people live in fear of homosexuality. These fears of homosexuality have unfortunately prevented people from acknowledging a crime and could be the driving force behind this disturbing practice called corrective rape.

Given the history of South Africa, and its passionate fight for equality, it is incomprehensible that these strong anti-homosexual beliefs could overshadow the value it places on equality. Some argue that equality between races is not the same as equality for homosexuals. This argument would stem from the belief that one is born with a certain skin color, and it is impossible to change this and the belief that homosexuality is not genetic. Therefore, many believe the cry for equality is not the same.

Even though arguments from both sides can be seen as credible, it is important to note that the call to end such practice against homosexuals is not just a cry for equality; it is, most importantly, a cry for justice.  The values for which South Africa stands should trump the bias that plagues Africa. Such a passionate fight for respect for all persons, this should be universal regardless of a person’s sexual orientation. Like in most countries, the system upon which a country is built should trump the individual. Therefore, the equality affirming system built in South Africa should trump these social constructs of homophobic discrimination. Corrective rape violates the rights of the individual. It infringes both on liberty and individual freedom.  The constitution of South Africa guarantees the rights to equality before the law, human dignity, and life. Where is the enforcement of these rights with this issue? Corrective rape clearly violates all three values of the South African constitution. The rights to life, dignity, and equality written the South African constitution should be enforced and should drive the thinking of the both the government and its constituents regardless of the prejudices that plague Africa.

Several methods need to be enforced by South African government to counteract this practice. Rape, regardless of the subject, should be a concern, of the national government. Thus, corrective rape should be a priority to the South African government. The view on homosexuality across Africa and in South Africa will be hard to change. However, there needs to be laws that guarantee their livelihood. Educating the public against such inhumane acts needs to be a priority. Just like the idea of corrective rape is gaining popularity among people, education against corrective rape and its ideals should be pushed as well. Also, the prosecution of those who perform these acts should be undertaken. Another counteractive measure, though extreme and could be seen as a form of enslavement to women, could be a push for women, who are predisposed to rape, to wear condoms called Rape aXe that attach to rapists’ genital, and can only be extricated by a doctor. [c] This has helped to decrease the number of sexual assaults in Congo, and could do the same in South Africa. Recognizing that is corrective rape is a crime by no means is trying forcing homosexuality on South Africa. Instead, it is forcing Africa to break the veil created by religious and cultural constructs that prevent people of this nation from acknowledging a crime.

Ibitola Adesuyi is a senior at Emory University majoring in Economics and International Studies. Her academic interests include international finance and economic development, with a particular interest in Sub-Saharan Africa. This summer, Ibitola interned with the Global Institute for Change where she conducted research on massacres, election trends, political and socio-economic issues in Nigeria, Cameroon and Zimbabwe.


a) Clare Carter. “The Brutality of Corrective Rape,” New York Times, July 27, 2013. Accessed August 1, 2013

b) Mike Miesen. “5 Things You Don’t Know About Homosexuality In Some Parts Of Africa,” Policy Mic, June, 2013. Accessed August 1, 2013

c) Faith Karimi “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape” CNN News June 21, 2010. Accessed August 1, 2013

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